Good Reading : May 2008
20 goodreading ı MAY 2008 we’re largely fighting for the values we were against then – the idea of pre- emptive aggression, the idea of invading somewhere in order to strip out its resources, the idea of saying that people were from failed states so they have no legal status and you can do what you like to them: disappearing people, torturing people.’ Is the war ever really over, I ask her? ‘No. Financially it’s not. As long as anybody’s alive who is emotionally touched by it, and that could just be because your dad was a bit crazy because of what happened to him or your grandpa was weird, it just resonates for so long.The emotions are still very raw. These people 60 years on are still in pain. It’s big and it’s real and it’s horrible.’ On accepting her Costa (formerly the Whitbread) Award, Kennedy said she felt ‘a sense of impending doom surrounding British culture’ and given the current state of publishing and that her first book was a collection of short stories, she feels if she were starting out now as a writer, she would have little chance of being published. Short stories are greatly undervalued and she says the short story is ‘probably the most difficult prose to write’. Her 2003 collection, Indelible Acts – twelve stories which are ‘variations on a theme of longing’ – is to be savoured, each story a delicate work of art. Kennedy’s down-to-earth, outspoken Guardian columns (‘Torture, the British Way’, ‘More bums and deceit’, ‘Tarmack and typing: the anti-holiday’) will give you a sense of her political engagement and a taste of her deliciously dark sense of humour. For someone who shuns any kind of celebrity limelight and comes across as down-to-earth and modest, it seems a cruel punishment that at times she has had to endure scathing and, on occasion, an incomprehensible lack of compassion from the press about her past bouts of ill health including a really black period, which she describes as ‘a big cocktail of bad stuff happening. People think they have to take you down a peg’. This is where a sense of humour comes in handy and Kennedy has put hers to good use by appearing at literary festivals, comedy clubs and the Edinburgh festival with her stand-up act since 2005.With a BA and honours in theatre studies and drama from Warwick University, she has always been drawn to live performance but prefers the spontaneity and freedom of comedy. ‘I really like language, I like the physical effects of language I enjoy performing. The thing about comedy is as soon as it gets boring you change it.’ She loves playing the clubs because ‘most people don’t know you from a hole in the ground’ and as ‘additional foolishness is required, it’s just a great relief just to have a laugh’. When I ask her how people react when she tells them she’s a writer, I get sample of her crack-up omedy routine. ‘I really try nd avoid parties because you end up talking about punctuation all night.’ Sometimes, she says, people stare at her as if she were an example of some rare, as yet uncatalogued species. ‘In this country you are greeted with outright suspicion. It’s like saying ‘‘I’m a wizard’’. People just don’t believe you. I think it’s because people don’t know what a writer looks like.They don’t know what to do so they always ask you the three most unanswerable questions in the world. “Have you had anything published?” And I now have to say yes, eleven books. Now they’re not suspicious, they’re just scared.Then they say “Would you have written anything I’ve read?” How on earth would I know that? And then they’ll go on to “Are you famous?” Yes I’m the secret kind of famous the kind where most people don’t know who I am. It’s the best kind of famous, very exclusive.’ Touring as a writer may not always be fun but it helps if you can have a hearty laugh about it. Kennedy recalls a nightmarish four-cities-in-a-week literary tour of Canada ‘the only time I hated being in Canada because I love Canada. It was hotel-event-hotel-event- airport-hotel-event-airport. I thought I can’t do this. It wasn’t only me. A lot of us had this difficulty. If you do Calgary,Vancouver,Toronto, it’s very dry air, it’s very high altitude, and people were having terrible depression. I don’t drink, but people were drinking to try and relax and, of course, they were getting drunk on half a glass of sherry. Depression was out of control. People kept on wanting to give us receptions when all we wanted was to have a good lie down.’ More hilarity as she compares the touring life of a writer to the film 1408. Based on the Stephen King short story of the same name starring John Cusack, it’s about a writer researching the supposedly haunted Room 1408 in which bizarre things happen and lots of people die in horrific ways. ‘I saw it in a hotel when I was on tour. That film is just a minor exaggeration of what it’s like to be on tour. I was just laughing because the mint does just magically appear on your pillow and you can’t work the heating.You can never work the heating, it’s always too hot or too cold or you can’t turn it off and you wake up and you can’t blink because you’re so dehydrated.You don’t actually hallucinate unless you’re drinking whisky but every horrible moment of your life does come back and haunt you. I thought yeah, been there, done that.’ Fortunately the reading life is less fraught than the writer’s! If you haven’t read A L Kennedy, a treasure trove awaits. A L Kennedy’s Day is published by Random House, rrp $24.95. Day has won the Saltire Award, Austrian State Prize For European Literature, the Eifel-Literaturpreis, the Costa Best Novel Award and the Costa Award. Kennedy has published four other novels, four collections of short stories and two works of non-fiction. A L Kennedy writes under her initials because many of her favourite authors (J R R Tolkein, C S Lewis, E E Nesbitt, e e cummings) did the same. book trivia author profile Touring as a writer may not always be fun but it helps if you can have a hearty laugh about it. Kennedy recalls a nightmarish four-cities-in-a- week literary tour of Canada...